Resistance Training for Youths

Many people have told me that resistance training for children and adolescents is unsafe. However, when I ask them how they know that, it’s generally because someone once told them. I prefer to listen to the years of compelling scientific evidence that supports its use for a wide range of performance, health and injury reducing benefits(1,2,3). Resistance training includes body weight, weights, resistance bands and medicine balls. It can be fun, safe and appropriate as part if a total fitness programme that changes to match the child’s goals and needs throughout life.

Benefits include:

  • Performance benefits - Improved muscular strength and power, increased running velocity and change of direction speed and general motor performance.
  •  Health benefits – improved body composition, reduced abdominal and trunk fat. Obese children and adolescents have also shown improved cardiac function and insulin sensitivity.
  • Reduced injury risk – enhanced bone mineral density and stronger tendons and ligaments.
  • Positive psychological health and wellbeing.

Basic Guidelines:

  • Age 7 or under – basic exercises with little or no weight and low volume, teaching exercise techniques. Using mainly body weight and low resistances.
  • Age 8–10 – Gradually increase the volume, by introducing more exercises. Can introduce gradual progressive loading if form allows
  • Age 11-13 – Continue very gradual progressive loading emphasising good form. Introduce more advanced exercises with little or no resistance. 
  • Age 14–16 – Increase volume and add sports specific components.
  • Age 16 or older – After all background knowledge has been mastered and training experience has been gained he/she can progress to entry-level adult programmes.

Important considerations:

  • Training must be supervised by qualified professionals, using programmes that are consistent with the needs, goals and abilities of younger populations.
  •  The programme should take into account the biological age, training history, technical proficiency, existing strength levels and maturity.
  • Good form is paramount and should never be compromised at the expense of increasing volume or intensity.
  • Younger populations should never be trained the same as adults.

The attached picture shows the UKSCA guidelines. It is important that these are guidelines, exercise prescription for younger populations should be flexible and individualised. A sensible progression should be made taking into account a range of compounding variables including maturational stage, competency, technical proficiency, existing strength levels and psychosocial factors (e.g maturity, confidence and self-perception). 

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References:

  1. American College of Sports Medicine. (2013). ACSM's guidelines for exercise testing and prescription. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
  2. Faigenbaum, A. D., & Myer, G. D. (2010). Resistance training among young athletes: safety, efficacy and injury prevention effects. British journal of sports medicine44(1), 56-63.
  3. Lloyd, R., Faigenbaum, A., Myer, G., Stone, M., Oliver, J., Jeffreys, I., & Pierce, K. (2012). UKSCA position statement: Youth resistance training. Professional Strength and Conditioning26, 26-39.

 

Daniel Morgan